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Reforming UN for a rules-based order

Primary reason for the ongoing crises in Ukraine and Gaza is an ineffective Security Council

Reforming UN for a rules-based order

RUINOUS: Taken in the light of geopolitical priorities of its P5 members, UNSC's decisions have led to the intensification of armed conflicts, impacting over two billion people, mainly in the Global South. Reuters



Asoke Mukerji

Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations

THE breakdown of the ‘rules-based order’ is evident from the spread of violent conflicts that are fracturing international relations. At the heart of this order is the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which is mandated by the UN Charter with the ‘primary responsibility’ of maintaining international peace and security. The Charter stipulates that UNSC decisions are binding on all UN member-states. The widening gap between decision-making by the UNSC and the challenges to peace, security and development on the ground is directly responsible for the ongoing crises. The priority for the international community is to eliminate this gap through a review and reform of the rules-based order. This can only be done through the UN General Assembly (UNGA), in which all states, big and small, are represented on an equal basis.

Now, 20 million Afghan women live under ‘gender apartheid’. The UNSC was unable to ensure compliance with its decision of 2015, guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The UNSC’s decision-making parameters were negotiated between August 1944 and February 1945 among the Council’s five ‘permanent’ members or the P5 (today’s Russia, China, France, the UK and the US). A key feature was the requirement for the ‘concurrence’ (popularly known as the veto) of the P5 to UNSC decisions. Both the composition of the P5 and their veto power were ‘parachuted’ into the UN Charter as non-negotiable pre-conditions in the invitation extended to countries for participating in the San Francisco conference (April-June 1945) to adopt the Charter.

During the conference, some countries objected to the non-democratic veto provision. Addressing the first session of the UNGA on January 18, 1946, India said it had agreed to the consensus on the Charter on the basis of a compromise. The compromise, contained in Article 109 of the Charter, was to convene a UN General Conference to review the Charter’s provisions 10 years after it was adopted. So far, such a General Conference has not taken place.

The UNSC’s decisions since 1946 have been consistently taken in the light of geopolitical priorities of its P5 members and not any commitment to world peace. This was the pattern during the ideological confrontation of the Cold War (1946-1991). After the Cold War, the three NATO members of the P5 (France, the UK and US) acted to make the NATO supplant the UNSC, symbolised by their action in Libya in 2011. The UNSC subsequently proved helpless in preventing NATO’s weaponisation of globalised economic linkages through unilateral sanctions, which have primarily affected developing countries. The outcome has been the intensification of armed conflicts, impacting not only the integrity of the UNSC but also more than two billion people mainly in the Global South, according to the UN.

The recent track record of the UNSC in failing to uphold a rules-based order illustrates the urgent need for reforming its mandated role. On August 15, 2021, the UNSC was unable to enforce compliance with its own unanimous decision of March 10, 2020, linking US/NATO troop withdrawal with a politically inclusive government in Afghanistan. Today, 20 million Afghan women live under ‘gender apartheid’. On February 22, 2022, the UNSC was unable to ensure compliance with its decision of February 17, 2015, guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in return for the devolution of political power to its restive eastern regions under the Minsk Agreements. The resulting violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine (which is supported externally by NATO) has ruined millions of lives physically and socio-economically. On October 7, 2023, the UNSC was unable to make member-states comply with its numerous resolutions, including No. 2334 of December 23, 2016, on the Israel-Palestine issue. The conflict has led to the death of thousands of women and children.

In an ideal rules-based order, the UNGA should be responsible under the Charter for maintaining international peace and security. Since 2015, all UN member-states, including the P5, have accepted the interlinkage between peace, security and development. However, the Charter was deliberately drafted to make UNGA decisions recommendatory and non-binding on UN member-states. It prevents the UNGA from considering issues that are on the agenda of the UNSC. Even a UNGA decision to amend the Charter (and reform the UNSC) is hostage to a P5 veto under Article 108 of the Charter. The cart is put before the horse.

The UNGA has tried to overcome these handicaps by prioritising its work mandating negotiations of treaties to create a rules-based order. Such treaties include the Convention on Genocide (1948); the Convention on outlawing Racial Discrimination (1965); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966); the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979); the Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Participating states are expected to uphold their treaty obligations to achieve the principles and objectives of the Charter.

A similar approach marks UNGA decisions recommending norms for member-states to use in adopting national legislation. The first such document, adopted unanimously by the UNGA on December 10, 1948, was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On September 25, 2015, the UNGA adopted Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development with its 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), the first universally applicable normative global policy framework interlinking peace, security, development and environmental protection.

The assertion by world leaders at the UN SDG Summit on September 18-19, 2023, that numerous crises had put the implementation of the SDGs into peril deserves to be taken seriously. The primary reason for these crises is an ineffective UNSC, whose unanimously mandated reform has been assiduously blocked in informal UNGA negotiations by the P5 since 2008.

The need to urgently reform the rules-based order has to be pursued through informal multiple-stakeholder consultations in the lead-up to the UN’s Summit of the Future, due in September. Using dialogue and diplomacy to convene a General Conference of the UN in 2025, the objective should be to give the ‘primary responsibility’ for peace, security and development to the equitable and representative UNGA.

#Gaza #Ukraine


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